Republican leaders won’t accept tax increases in exchange for deep entitlement cuts, and say they’ll only raise the national debt limit in exchange for a spending cut package that’s revenue neutral.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Battle Over The Budget At The White House]
That leaves them vulnerable to the charge that they’re not negotiating in good faith — that they’re refusing to budge on anything of ideological importance to them under the threat of a catastrophic debt default. So they need an answer when pressed: If President Obama has agreed in principle to cut entitlements, over howls of protests from members of his party, what are Republicans prepared to offer that amounts to similar political risk in their own party.
Here’s what they’ve settled on: We’ll agree to raise the debt limit!
At his weekly press availability House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the key Republican concession is “the fact that we are voting — the fact that we are even discussing voting for a debt ceiling increase.” He claimed this was a significant move. “What I don’t think the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say they’re going to vote to pay for a debt ceiling increase.”
Just before leaving for the White House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also told reporters that a “balanced” approach is one where Obama agrees to the GOP’s fiscal framework and Republicans agree to prevent a default.
“Most Americans would say that a balanced approach is a simple one: the administration gets its debt limit increase, and the American people get their spending cuts,” Boehner said. The glaring problem with this interpretation is that Republican leaders have admitted that raising the debt ceiling is imperative — not an arbitrary policy preference of the President’s.
“I agree with the President we can not allow our nation to default on our debt,” Boehner said at the same press conference.
A week ago, Politico reporter David Rogers questioned Cantor’s assertion that Republicans are only talking about raising the debt limit because Obama asked them to.
“Even if he never asked you to raise the debt limit, you recognize as a responsible House leader you would have to raise the debt ceiling?” Rogers pressed.
“There is no question that the amount of increase in the debt limit is in direct correspondence to fiscal mismanagement in the past,” Cantor said in response. “These are bills that have been run up. That has to be done, yes. I have always said so.”
In the end this isn’t a question of whether Republicans will find an acceptable price for raising the debt limit. It’s about whether Republicans will budge at all on the issue of revenue neutrality, and whether they’ll agree to raise the debt limit until after the 2012 elections, even if the final debt limit bill doesn’t cut deficits by $2 trillion or more.
More on those points soon.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.